Marcus Berkmann: When it comes to British pop, only a Northern song will do

Each band wears its grimy roots as a badge of pride
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The Independent Online

All hail as the Kaiser Chiefs storm the Brits with their supremely average guitar rock. There's hardly any point having a go at the Brits any more, as everyone knows they exist purely to reward commercial success and to market British music to the rest of the globe. But while you'd struggle to differentiate the Kaiser Chiefs' music from a dozen other rather similar bands, there's one thing we do all know about them. They come from Leeds. And there's one thing we all know about the Arctic Monkeys. They come from Sheffield. Each band wears its grimy Northern industrial roots as a badge of pride. They don't quite go as far as Gilbert O'Sullivan once did and wear flat caps, but you can tell they are itching to. They know we in the South cannot, and they mock our palpable geographic inferiority.

What is it about Northernness in rock music? From the Beatles on, it has been clear to all that to have grown up north of, say, Stoke-on-Trent is to gain an instant and career-defining advantage. Gerry and the Pacemakers may have been beyond awful, but their Scouseness alone gave them hits. Had they come from Weymouth, they wouldn't have had a sniff. All Manchester bands let you know about their origins before they have sung a note. Joy Division/New Order: yup, Manchester. The Fall: yup. Oasis: oh yes, very much so. I even know that the Gallagher brothers support Manchester City, which is considerably more than I want to know about them.

Oasis, of course, made it personal in 1995 at the apex of Britpop, when they pointed out that their great rivals Blur were from the South. This implied that they were (a) automatically posh, as though Lord Snooty and his pals had taken up the banjo and become megastars overnight because of their "connections", and (b) automatically useless.

At the time, I have to admit, I was torn. Damon Albarn did indeed appear to be the most egregious sort of art-school phoney, with his glottal stops and trips dahn the dogs. And yet Liam and Noel with their amazing brutish faces and endless dimwitted pronouncements used up the sympathy of most disinterested observers with astounding speed.

When they both moved to the south and bought huge houses with unspeakable blonde wives, I am sure I was not the only Londoner to shout, "Bugger off! There's a train from Euston in 45 minutes!" Instead they stayed and recorded ever-worse albums. People from the North blamed this on their having moved to the South. People from the South blamed this on their being from the north.

And yet the South does seem to suffer enormous credibility problems. Consider Joss Stone, the comely white teenager with a voice like a 50-year-old black American woman who has seen a thing or two. Last year, she won a Brit in the "urban" category (urban being the current industry euphemism for "black") and everyone mocked because she came from Devon.

The Darkness come from Lowestoft, which is deemed hugely comic; XTC have spent a quarter of a century not quite being taken seriously because they are from Swindon. I myself gave up all hope of a sparkling musical career when I suddenly realised I came from Hampstead. You go and live in Hampstead when you have become a rock star, but you certainly don't start there. Belsize Park is even worse.

Stoke-on-Trent is on the border because that's where Robbie Williams comes from. He has been teetering on the credibility tightrope for his entire career. His personality isn't at fault, and nor is his music; it's his birthplace. Lucky Kaiser Chiefs. Lucky, lucky boys.

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